ECONOMY secretary Fiona Hyslop has come under fire for side-stepping questions over Scotland's £230m ferry building "scandal" and its secret 'pathway to nationalisation' while she admitted there are lessons to be learnt.

She spoke out as it emerged that the delivery of two lifeline island ferries has been delayed by a further six months as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

The Scottish Government have come under fire for failing to explain how it was that it created a pathway to the controversial state takeover of Ferguson Marine while issuing a £30m loan “to further diversify their business" knowing that it was actually in danger of financial collapse.

Ferguson went into administration following a dispute with Caledonian Maritime Assets Ltd - the taxpayer-funded company which buys and leases publicly owned CalMac's ships on behalf of the Scottish government - over the construction of two ferries under a £97m fixed price contract.

The Scottish Government began the process of taking control of the last civilian shipyard on the Clyde in August, last year, as it went under because of the soaring costs of the ferry contract - which have now more than doubled.

The further delays - brought about by the coronavirus pandemic - means that the both ferries are up to nearly five years late.

Economy secretary Fiona Hyslop has confirmed that the first of the ferries the MV Glen Sannox is now destined for the Arran to Ardrossan route betweeen April 2022, to June, 2022.

Pre-lockdown the already delayed timetable had the Glen Sannox in action by October to December, 2021. It was originally anticipated that it would enter service early in 2018.

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A second vessel, known only as Hull 902, which was supposed to be delivered to state-owned CalMac in the first half of 2018 for use on the Uig-Lochmaddy-Tarbert triangle - will not now be in service until between December, 2022 and February, 2023.

When Ms Hyslop was quizzed about about the transparency over the real motives for the loan, she said: "It doesn't help the workforce going forward to hear the denegration of what is happening.

"In terms of what has happened in the past. The inquiry will address many of the issues that has been raised.

"But my job as the economy secretary responsible for Ferguson is to make sure they are in a position to go forward to complete the ferry, to secure the yard, and most importantly to secure the future of those 350 workers at the yard. And the 350 which is part of the supply chain.

"It is not unusual for governments to look at taking support for businesses through an unsecured loan or a secured loan for the £30m.

"My job is to ensure that the yard has a future. And it would have a stronger future if this Parliament got behind the workforce, made sure they supported them and made sure they support the future work that we want to secure for this year."

She was quizzed after the Herald on Sunday revealed that the Scottish Government knew Ferguson Marine Engineering Limited was in danger of financial collapse two years before it undertook a state takeover in December, last year after the major shipbuilder finally fell into insolvency.

Confidential documents revealed that ministers were making financial arrangements should the shipbuilder fall into administration two years earlier - offering a £15m loan a month later.

While finance secretary Derek Mackay was telling the public a further £30m loan a year later was “to further diversify their business", internal documents stated the real reason was that Ferguson was in financial trouble and at risk of falling into administration.

Meanwhile, ministers were ensuring that the loan came with it a potential pathway to nationalisation.

Former managers of the yard have accused ministers of forcing it into insolvency by rejecting a plan that would avoid any state aid claim, save the taxpayer at least £120m and prevent the costs of building two key lifeline ferries soaring to over £230m.

In being questioned on her update on the Ferguson Marine ferries, she went on to say: "I agree that there are lessons to be learnt, and that is why we would welcome the inquiry that is taking place that is looking at the situation and how it developed. "There are issues around governance, undoubtedly. I am sure the committee will make recommendations. It needs a board and I appointed that board."

She also said there were also issues relating to work practices.

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But she stressed: "It is most important that we reflect that we have saved the yards, we have saved jobs and are making sure that those ferries will be built and in other circumstances had we taken different decisions, there would be no yard there would be no jobs and those ferries would still not have been built."

Scottish Conservative transport spokesman, Graham Simpson MSP, criticised Ms Hyslop's parliamentary response saying: “The SNP Government can’t just blindly ignore their past failures and pretend it was all somebody else who caused this fiasco.

“Today we got no answers about claims that the SNP planned to nationalise Ferguson Marine all along and what former finance secretary Derek Mackay knew when he made these loans.

“There are serious accusations here about the misuse of public money. Derek Mackay must come back to parliament and reveal what he knew, and if he had the support of Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP cabinet.

“The SNP’s repeated failures have been clouded in secrecy for far too long, and we still don’t know how much this scandal will ultimately cost Scottish people.”

Last week nationalised shipbuilders Ferguson Marine insisted that hopes of ending Scotland's £230m lifeline ferry building fiasco on track after completing a crucial phase of a massive repair job.